The future of business lies in efficiency. From getting new, improved products and services on the market as quickly as possible to more sustainable cost structures to the ability to adjust future operating plans around the latest innovations, adaptability and speed are expected at every turn.
Now, let’s juxtapose this expectation with today’s reality: the majority of organizations are still struggling to execute strategy. If most businesses can’t get more than 65% of projects successfully completed, clearly, something needs to change.
The only constant is change
Many organizations falter due to a false expectation of certainty. In reality, the business world today revolves around continuous change, rendering conventional slow-moving and process-heavy strategic planning approaches obsolete. The archetype of forward-thinking businesses must replace rules, paperwork, and oversight with a focus on continuously informed decision making.
Real-time decision-making capabilities rely on a company culture with strong communication where information and ideas are discussed at every level. Not sure where to start when it comes to facilitating business-unit (BU) enterprise-wide discussions? I strongly recommend focusing on simple, lightweight strategic roadmaps like the ones included in the new 6.2 release of Tempus Resource.
Establishing a vision for achieving business outcomes
The key to successful roadmapping is resisting the temptation to get too far into the weeds. For a BU, you want to develop a simple timeline that lays out both desired business outcomes and the earliest date they can realistically be delivered. Keep in mind that by definition, this first pass is only the BU’s untested view of reality. Don’t let the pressure of getting it “right” keep you from moving forward.
While I’ve been advocating that organizations adopt strategic roadmapping for years, it’s important to point out what roadmaps are not. This is not a concrete execution plan. Roadmaps (at least at this stage of the process) will not provide instant clarity and direction throughout the enterprise. Rather, they are the starting point. Before all the pieces of the strategic puzzle can truly come together, most ideas and proposals will need to move through the bidirectional communication cycle (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Bidirectional communication cycle
A bidirectional dialogue means information must flow down from the top as freely as it flows up from the bottom. When you use a lightweight roadmap in this kind of communication, it will help uncover disconnects and bring you one step closer to crafting a workable approach that fits the entire enterprise.
In almost every case, you can assume a BU’s view of the world won’t match up perfectly with a top-down enterprise view. What I have learned through hard experience is that it’s never safe to assume that what corporate says they want is what is really right. So, at this stage, a business unit should be free to develop any plan they think is workable, as long as their plan is executable with the resources available. This means all projects CANNOT start January 1st and that no one division can assume they will get 100% of known scarce or bottleneck resources. It also means that the business unit is responsible for thinking through exactly what capabilities each project in their strategic roadmap should deliver.
Setting the expectation of change
For anyone who has spent years navigating corporate politics, you may be wondering why “strategic roadmapping” is any better as a process than the high-level project requests most BUs submit today. It all comes down to expectations.
When a BU submits a project request, it’s seen as a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. Compare that to a roadmap, which shows how a BU envisions achieving specific business outcomes in the future. Project requests are rigid while roadmaps factor in continuous change and are therefore crafted to be flexible.
In today’s post-Covid work where flexibility is critical, maximum flexibility requires frequent and clear communication. When a business unit submits 10 or 20 project proposals, they are usually completely lacking in context. One business unit might be asking for support for a major marketing program, but doesn’t share that the competition might be on the verge of announcing something that would obsolete the campaign before it’s even done. There simply isn’t any certainty in the world today. If one path closes, being able to identify the alternatives is a major advantage. Roadmapping makes this process more visual and more understandable.
Politics, Politics, and more Politics
Anyone who has ever done annual or strategic planning knows the drill. Work out the plan, get it all buttoned up, then wait for the backroom political maneuvering to begin. It only took me one budget cycle in a large company to realize that this process was so common, we had actually inserted an extra month in the process just to handle the negotiations.
When reprioritization based on politics inevitably pops up, a strategic roadmapping tool can show you exactly what adjustments it will force on everyone else’s plans. In dozens of conversations with portfolio organizations, I’ve found a common frustration: after the political wheeling and dealing, they are always caught short because the new plan has an interdependency in it that no one realized was there. A roadmap and an outcome-based plan should prevent this 11th hour surprise.
Is roadmapping going to cure the corporate equivalent of world hunger? Of course not. Never underestimate an organization’s ability to sweep things under the rug and take the easy way out. What I do know is that strategic roadmapping makes it easier for modern day fusion teams to stay on top of their cross-functional work.
Fusion teams, defined by Gartner as “a multidisciplinary team that blends technology or analytics and business domain expertise and shares accountability for business and technology outcomes,” are not a new invention. In fact, not only have they existed my entire career, but they are also the only reason most of us ever got anything accomplished. Additionally, they are the key to making the bi-directional communication process I discussed in figure 1 successful
While we can all wish for better top-down communication, it’s the lateral communication at the mid-level that keeps everything functioning. Strategic roadmaps facilitate this communication by serving as a shared tool that everyone can understand and luckily use for their own purposes.
Are there any difficulties that strategic roadmapping can introduce? None that don’t already exist.
Will one or two roadmaps come in poorly prepared and poorly thought out? Of course. Will one or two senior managers be unhappy if they don’t get exactly what they want, even if it’s not possible with current staff and current funding? Always. But as I said earlier, the real purpose of roadmapping is to provide information for the people who do the real reconciliation and ensure that the plans are executable. That includes the PMO, the program manager, the sponsor, and the fusion team that is formally or informally responsible for executing toward the goal.
Alignment through roadmapping
Strategic business roadmapping is not a fixed execution plan. Instead, it is a living document that enables a BU to discuss, craft, and continuously build on a shared vision.
The power of the roadmap is that it factors in future uncertainties and therefore understands that all future entries are subject to change. By keeping the roadmap lightweight — meaning not bogged down by details — BUs can focus first on the value of an investment, rather than letting the cost limit the value. This allows for comparison between the possible investments laid out across different roadmaps and uncovering dependencies so that organizations can put themselves in the best position to sequence all work across the portfolio.